Guest Review By Brendan McGroggan
The last time I saw Against Me! live was in June of 2012. It was Laura Jane Grace’s first tour and the place was full. Their set that night was absolutely incredible, and a good portion of it was new material. Really, really killer new material. Not only that, Laura Jane was the happiest lead singer I have ever seen. I mean, her grin was ear to ear the entire set, and her voice was epic.
After waiting a year and a half since that night for their new album, I can tell you, it was more than worth the wait. Transgender Dysphoria Blues is here. It is the first great album of 2014 and the most powerful punk rock record I’ve heard in a long time.
Since Tommy Gabel became Laura Jane Grace, the music of Against Me! has changed, becoming even more revolutionary and outspoken than before. In the opinion of this fan, better. This change, inspired by Laura’s change, and fueled by a pure punk rock engine, birthed something truly remarkable on “Transgender…”. It’s as if the album is a molten fire punk rock fist smashing through the icy waterfall of hate that breeds ignorance. I’ve heard albums that speak out before, but this one takes it to a whole new level.
It’s Laura Jane Grace, not Buch Vig, as producer on the album and it’s obvious that she knows what she’s doing. James and Laura’s guitars sound like punk rock jet engines, the drums remind me of echoes from a war machine, the bass destroys, and the vocals are nice and loud. NOFX’s very own Fat Mike even played bass on two of the songs, with Laura Jane playing bass on the others.
Atom Willard (RFTC, Angels & Airwaves) plays drums on “Transgender..,” and has recently become AM!s official drummer. His chops are noticed right from the start of the first song. After several options were considered, Atom was clearly the right person to join Against Me! on drums. He has that Against Me!-style animal inside of him, the one that comes out when he performs, both on the stage and in the studio.
When you hear the lyrics to the opening song, “Transgender Dysphoria Blues,” you will know what I mean when I saw the band’s new direction is revolutionary. The lyrics pull no punches and neither does the energy. Though Laura Jane doesn’t swear much on the record as a whole, when she does, it sounds absolutely warranted and more than appropriate.
Songs “True Trans Soul Rebel” and “F***mylife666” are up next and both appeared on the TRUE TRANS EP released in June of 2013. They were great then, but it’s really something to hear them with a full band.
“Dead Friend” also appears on the album. Again, I’ve been waiting to hear this song specifically on a record for the last year and a half. Again, I was not disappointed at all. Anyone who’s lost a friend will want to hear this song. In it’s morbid nature is pure beauty. Any friend you have in heaven knows these lyrics are how you really feel about them being gone.
“Two Coffins” is an acoustic number that comes toward the end of the album. After hearing “Dead Friend,” this acoustic ballad is welcoming to the ears. The two songs are opposite sides of the same emotional coin. “Two Coffins” also, in its morbid nature, holds pure beauty. “How lucky I was to see the way that you smiled at me. Your little moon face shining bright at me. One day soon there’ll be nothing left of you and me. Two coffins for sleep.” Laura reminds us again, life is short.
The album ends with “Black Me Out,” which is perhaps the most powerful song on the album. The guitar line is so inspired, erasing any doubt of the talent behind Laura’s songwriting. It sounds like another song that was raised on the acoustic guitar, before being unleashed by the full Against Me! beast. When the last hum of distortion goes quiet, you might want to hit “repeat all” to take the ride again. I know I did, many times.
Since this album began streaming for free on NPR, I have been listening to it on repeat at work. I highly recommend it to fans of punk rock (both old and new), all Against Me! fans, all fans of rock music, and anyone out there in the world feeling trapped. Set yourself free.
Pre-order Transgender Dysphoria Blues here.